Sunday, March 01, 2009

This Week In Tickets: 23 February 2009 to 1 March 2009

Below, one of the harshest indictments for the February dead zone that is February:

This Week In Tickets!

Folks reading this blog know that I like movies. I see a lot of them. So what does it mean when this page includes only four tickets to five movies (one of them not a real ticket, but just a placeholder to show I went to the Brattle's Sunday Eye Opener)? It means that either I'm really busy at work or there's nothing playing, and while I stayed late-ish to work a couple of times, I wasn't that busy.

For crying out loud, I went to Echelon Conspiracy. That's not remarkable because I have much in the way of standards - the relatively common use of this blog's "crap" tag should indicate that - but because Echelon Conspiracy is actually playing on cinema screens. This is a direct-to-video quality movie at best, and yet not only was it playing in theaters, but there were a fair number of people watching it with me, despite the fact that there hasn't been, as far as I can tell, any posters, commercials, previews, or press of any kind for it before it showed up on Friday. People just wanted something new to see, and you can only watch the Oscar nominees and Taken so many times, so this and non-movies like the Jonas Brothers concert wind up on multiplex screens.

Oddly, I'm not upset about this stuff getting a wide release while the likes of The Midnight Meat Train, Dance of the Dead, Fanboys, or any of dozens of other movies that I don't know about either get dumped straight to video or have to claw and scrape to get any release. I sort of think this like the tide going far out before a tsunami - Watchmen will get a metric ton of screens on Friday, and Echelon Conspiracy is just filling the gap before that. Still, this past week was a drag.

Border Incident

* * (out of four)
Seen 24 February 2009 at the Brattle Theatre (Remembering Ricardo Montalban)

It's perhaps a little unfair that Ricardo Montalban, a fine, charming actor considered a sex symbol in his day, is remembered best for a couple of parts from his later years: Khan Noonian Singh and Mr. Roarke (as well as some car ads). He aged well, to be sure, but he also became a bit of a caricature of himself; he was something to behold in his younger days.

Not that I'd particularly want him remembered for Border Incident, even though he is the best thing in it. It's a heavy-handed crime movie, complete with stenotarian lectures about how the border is policed and must be policed, the sort of thing that sounds like it was written by J. Edgar Hoover. Its characters are made of the finest cardboard, and its big action finale is about as unexciting as can be. It's the sort of movie that makes both criminals and police look less sophisticated than they possibly could be, and isn't nearly atmospheric or quick-witted enough to be good film noir.

Mystery Street (aka Murder at Harvard)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 February 2009 at the Brattle Theatre (Remembering Ricardo Montalban)

Mystery Street does better by Montalban, casting him in the role of a Barnstable, MA, detective who receives assistance in solving a murder from a Harvard University forensic scientist. It's an enjoyable little mystery which would make for a decent episode of Bones or CSI these days, and has a great little moment toward the end where someone makes a remark about the detective's ethnicity (which had thus far gone uncommented upon) and Montalban's Peter Morales tosses it to the floor like he was doing verbal judo.

And, it was fun for us locals to see Harvard Square (and other bits of Greater Boston) as it was roughly sixty years ago. One thing that amused me was that, while the Harvard campus looks much the same, a scene where a car drives up to park near the school gates passes by what is now the entrance to the T station, and the Out of Town News isn't there, although from the uproar when it looked as if it might close this year, you'd think the institution had been there forever!

Echelon Conspiracy

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 February 2009 at AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run)

Echelon Conspiracy is basically the same movie as Eagle Eye, only without the gigantic action sequences and charming lead actors that made the Shia LaBoeuf vehicle entertaining. It also manages to be even dumber than that other movie, which is pretty tough, as that was a pretty staggeringly silly movie, which got away with it because it never stopped long enough to allow the audience to think about what a house of cards it was. This one never gets up to speed.

I strongly suspect that a lot of the money for this movie came from Russia, based on the effusive praise for Russian cryptography technology and the final scene which is jaw-droppingly hilarious if this film was primarily meant for an American audience. The real tragedy of this film is that director Greg Marcks doesn't let the absolutely insanely good vehicular stunt teams they have in Moscow go to town in the last act: There's a nice car chase, but if it's the same crew as was used in Junk or The Bourne Supremacy, they can do better, though maybe not on this budget.

The Pink Panther 2

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 February 2009 at AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run)

Like it's predecessor, this movie isn't the abomination before good cinema that one could fear, owing in large part to the fact that when you cram Steve Martin, John Cleese, Alfred Molina, and Lily Tomlin into the same movie, comedy will happen if only by accident. Supplanting them with the likes of Jean Reno, Emily Mortimer, Aishwarya Rai, Jeremy Irons, Andy Garcia, and Johnny Hallyday isn't going to hurt things.

That's the kind of sad in-between state it gets stuck in: It's not nearly as bad as the idea behind it, but it's not nearly as good as the amount of talent involved promises. Pretty much everyone involved is better than this, although it says something about Emily Mortimer that she can make me love a character in such a silly movie. Andy Garcia should also do this kind of broad comedy more often; he steals every scene he's in.

The Toe Tactic

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 March 2009 at the Brattle Theatre (Sunday Eye Opener)

About fifteen or twenty minutes into this movie, I accepted that as much as I may support and appreciate risk taking in artistic endeavor, I really do appreciate it when people just tell me the story. There's a nice story in Emily Hubley's The Toe Tactic that often seems to have a hard time getting out because the animated chorus of card-playing dogs keeps interfering. What's interesting is that in the Q&A afterward, director Emily Hubley mentioned (admitted?) that the animated characters saw their roles increase as she worked on the script, in part because she is an animator from a family of animators (she's the daughter of John and Faith Hubley), and that's what she does.

It's too bad, because there's a nice stretch in the middle where they pretty much keep out of it, and it becomes a real pleasure to watch Lily Rabe, Novella Nelson, Kevin Corrigan, Daniel London, Mary Kay Place, and the rest of the cast work. This is also the stretch where we get Jane Lynch as the emcee of a bar's open mic night, and though I suspect most people know this already, Jane Lynch is funny. She perks the movie right up, setting a bizarre tone that the animated bits, sadly, fail to deliver.
Ricardo MontalbanEchelon ConspiracyThe Pink Panther 2The Toe Tactic

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In your review of the Toe Tactic, you say the antics of the animated dogs distracted you from the live action narrative and the work of the actors. Actually the dogs drive the narrative. How'd you miss that!? Eli Wallach (Maestro) spelled it all out at the beginning. Jane Lynch herself was visiting from the "dog" world, and she precipitated the catharsis in Mona by spilling the beer on her.